The UT Tower shooter and his legacy of mass murder

Washington Post:
The modern era of mass shootings began here on a searing summer day in 1966. Just before noon, from high atop the University of Texas Tower, an ex-Marine sharpshooter named Charles Whitman leveled his rifle over the railing, peered through his scope and shot a pregnant student in the belly.

He hit her boyfriend in the neck. He shot a teenager in the mouth. Blasting at victims 500 yards away, the 25-year-old engineering student fired at will for 20 minutes — the time it took for students and residents to fetch their own high-powered rifles and shoot back, helping an unprepared and outgunned police force.

Some worked alone, taking position on roofs or behind bushes. Others partnered with Austin police officers, whose handguns and shotguns could not reach Whitman nearly 300 feet above. Officers even raced to gun stores to get ammo for the civilians, who were told to shoot to kill.

The tower at the University of Texas at Austin, top, served as a sniper's nest for Charles Whitman, an engineering student at the school shown in 1966. (TOP: Ilana Panich-Linsman for The Washington Post, ABOVE: AP)
“These guys were pretty good shots,” said Bill Helmer, then a graduate student who witnessed the mayhem. “There was a lot of lead flying up there at him.”

On Monday, survivors will attend the unveiling of a memorial on the 50th anniversary of Whitman’s rampage, which left 17 dead and more than 30 wounded. That same day, Texas becomes the nation’s eighth state to allow students to brings guns onto university campuses and, in some cases, into classrooms and dorms.
There is more.

I was a student at UT on that day.  I got out of class 30 minutes early and walked across the mall which became Whitman's killing field.  Just as I got to my apartment on the other side of campus I heard the gun shots and could see the return fire.

My recollection of the story is that Whitman, while an ex-Marine, did not qualify as a "sharpshooter."  There are three levels of qualification for Marine rifleman and I think he had the lowest level.

Whitman did have significant advantages on the Tower deck.  I had been to the observation deck before and it had a high thick wall with some drain spouts which made it impervious to attack from shots from below.  That is why the police officer who finally stopped him had to get on the observation deck and take him out up there.  He first had to break through the barricade Whitman had set up to block the door to the observation deck.  The Tower contains the central library for the University and I think he used some books to block the entrance.

I do not think the Tower shooter has much to do with the concealed carry law.  It would not have been particularly relevant to stopping Whitman unless someone with a weapon challenged him as he tried to enter the tower deck with a high powered rifle.  It would be more relevant to stopping attacks like that at Virginia Tech and other mass murder attempts where the shooter goes into a classroom.

A few weeks after the shooting I graduated and was in Marine Corps OCS which eventually led to a tour in Vietnam.  But, I had already experienced a live fire drill before I got there.


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